Michael Cohen: Reading With Marilyn

Photographs of Marilyn reading are quite common, and author Michael Cohen has chosen this picture – taken by Jock Carroll, while Marilyn was lying in bed and reading her script for Niagara in her hotel suite during the summer of 1952 – for the cover of A Place to Read: Life and Books, a recently-published collection of essays.  The title essay includes a short passage about the photo:

“The photo might be a modern version of the subject of the woman reading: like Fragonard’s young lady reading she lies propped on pillows; like the readers of John Sloan, Giovanni Boldini, and Robert Delaunay, she has no clothes on (though discreetly covered by sheet and blanket). In all such scenes a woman is taken out of her surroundings, is oblivious of them, no longer in a physical place but projected into a place of the imagination, a story space. As reader she enters the text, and its adventures are happening to her. But here the movement from the place of reading into the reading is even more pronounced: Marilyn Monroe projects herself into a text written to invite her. She is thinking about how she will be the character in the story. As she reads the hotel room recedes, with its harsh light, rough blanket, and intrusive photographer. She will not only enter the story in imagination but will enter physically into another level of the story, into a dramatic realisation of it, and she is thinking both about how the story appeals but also about how she will play it.”

You can learn more about Jock Carroll’s photos of MM in his 1996 book, Falling For Marilyn: The Lost Niagara Collection.

Marilyn and the House of Westmore

More than sixty years before Max Factor chose Marilyn as their poster girl, her image was regularly used to promote House of Westmore, Hollywood’s homegrown beauty business. Mary Mallory has investigated the company’s glamorous past for her L.A. Daily Mirror blog.

“Patriarch George Westmore introduced the family to the beauty field back in England, getting his start at as an assistant to a barber…Westmore became a successful wigmaker, before moving the family to New Orleans and eventually to Los Angeles. Once in the city of Angels, Westmore established the first film makeup and hair department at Selig Studios on Edendale Boulevard in 1917.

His six sons (Montague or ‘Mont’, Perc and his twin Ernest Henry ‘Ern’, Walter or ‘Wally’, George Hamilton or ‘Bud’, and Frank) followed him into the hair and makeup business, with a Westmore heading every studio Hair and Makeup Department at some time, except for MGM and Columbia.

Perc soon realized that the family could earn more money working on their own rather than creating products for a major competitor, leading to the creation of the House of Westmore…Thus was born one of the most potent competitors to Max Factor and his dominion over Hollywood cosmetics.

The Westmores acquired a lovely building at 6638 Sunset Blvd…The lavishly decorated salon finally opened April 16, 1935 with hundreds in attendance, including many of the Hollywood hoi polloi…Golden doors decorated with the Westmore coat of arms welcomed all who entered the pleasure palace, leading to a luscious art deco foyer. Floor to ceiling mirrors and peach blush carpets filled the structure, along with white silk drapes and white, bronze, and coral color furniture. White and gold telephones occupied each cubicle.

Quickly copying the advertising strategies of fellow competitors Max Factor and Elizabeth Arden, the family established Westmore’s News Service in their beauty establishment, which mailed out press releases noting Westmore beauty suggestions to syndicated newspaper columns and radio programs, highlighting special products created by the brothers, and announcing special honors and appearances.

The Westmores established their own cosmetics plant at Sunset Boulevard and Gordon Street and began selling products in the fall of 1935, the true cash cow of any beauty establishment.

Attendance sagged in the 1950s as more competition entered the scene, women moved further west, and the brothers grew older. By the 1960s, the disintegrating neighborhood and dilapidated building led to the House of Westmore’s demise on August 10, 1965.

Though gone in spirit, the lovely building still survives, providing nostalgic glimpses at a glamorous Hollywood past that now only exists in classic 1930s and 1940s films or vintage photographs.”

‘Monkey Business’ for Marilyn and Cary

Writing for the BFI blog, Samuel Wigley names Monkey Business – the Howard Hawks farce in which Marilyn plays the hapless Miss Laurel – among co-star Cary Grant’s ten best movies. (Wigley gets one thing wrong, though – Lois is the only main character who doesn’t take the serum, and is thus the ‘straight woman’ of the story.)

“No apologies for listing all five of the Grant-Hawks collaborations in a Grant top 10. Their last together, 1952’s Monkey Business is the silliest of the lot and features Grant as Dr Barnaby Fulton, an absent-minded professor whose newly invented elixir of youth ends up being mixed inside the water cooler by a lab chimpanzee. One-by-one Fulton, his wife (Ginger Rogers) and his secretary (Marilyn Monroe) are reverted to the state of immature, prank-pulling children. Echoes of Bringing Up Baby abound in the showdown between fusty expertise and unfettered animal instinct, and if Rogers is little match for Hepburn, Monroe positively sparkles in this early role.”

‘Oscar-Worthy’ Marilyn as Sugar

“Hey, Garbo never won, either. Monroe was never even nominated.” – Liz Smith, New York Social Diary

With awards season underway, Entertainment Weekly has named the 51 Greatest Performances Overlooked by Oscar – with Marilyn’s unforgettable turn as Sugar Kane in Some Like it Hot ranked fifth. (She did, however, win a Golden Globe for her role.)

“This film picked up several nominations for the men involved in making it, but there was no love for its lead actress that year—or any year. Maybe she was already too big a movie star. Maybe that blinded the Academy to a performance that was arguably the strongest ever from one of the 20th century’s most iconic stars. Monroe never got quite enough respect when she was alive, but there’s a reason she endures as a legend. Her ukulele-strumming Sugar Kane Kowalczyk almost tempts Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon out of the feminine disguises they’ve donned to hide from the mob. Sugar captures the allure and effervescence of a sex symbol while showcasing the warmth and soulfulness of the woman beneath. How much of that is thanks to the actress herself, and how much is her acting? That’s why it’s a great performance—almost as good as Norma Jean’s portrayal of Marilyn Monroe herself.” —Anthony Breznican

The Guardian‘s Paul Howlett also nominates Some Like it Hot among 10 Films that Kids Will Love – and So Will You…

“It must be said that Curtis looks quite the part as Josephine, Lemmon less so as Daphne; though putting both in close proximity to 50s sex goddess Marilyn Monroe as the vulnerable singer Sugar Kane is a comic gift that keeps giving, with the lovestruck Joe and Jerry permanently on the verge of being discovered, permanently on the verge of revealing their true selves, as it were, to Sugar.

In the hands of director Billy Wilder, this is actually a sophisticated sex comedy with uncomfortable hints of voyeurism, but much of that will sail straight over younger heads, leaving plenty of innocent, laugh-out-loud gender-swap farce…’Nobody’s perfect’ is Osgood’s legendary last line, but this fizzy, scintillating film is pretty close to it.”

David Gainsborough Roberts to Sell Marilyn Collection

One of the world’s leading collectors of Marilyn memorabilia, David Gainsborough Roberts, will be selling his collection next year – probably in time for her 90th birthday, reports BBC News.

I was fortunate enough to see part of Mr Roberts’ collection at Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire (ancestral home of Marilyn’s poet friend, Dame Edith Sitwell), back in 2005. You can order a catalogue from the American Museum in Bath.

Joe Franklin 1926-2015

Joe Franklin, who co-authored the first American biography of Marilyn in 1953, has died aged 88, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Born less than two months before Marilyn, his childhood friend was Bernard Schwartz (better known as Tony Curtis.) He began his radio career as a teenager, and is credited as a pioneer of the television talk show. The Joe Franklin Show ran for 42 years – a decade longer than Johnny Carson’s.

The Marilyn Monroe Story: The Intimate Inside Story of Hollywood’s Hottest Glamour Girl was co-written with Laurie Palmer. For two weeks in late 1953, Franklin worked on the book with Marilyn herself. However, the project was vetoed by Twentieth Century-Fox, and Franklin completed it without Marilyn’s further involvement. (In 1954, Marilyn would co-write her own memoir with Ben Hecht. Apart from an unauthorised serialisation, My Story would not be published until long after her death.)

Nonetheless, The Marilyn Monroe Story has become a highly valuable collector’s item, largely because it was published during her lifetime. It was reissued in paperback in 2012.

In his own memoir, Up Late with Joe Franklin, he appeared to have claimed a ‘brief, intimate encounter’ with Marilyn, but in a 2011 interview for the Emmys website, he set the record straight.

‘It’s not true,’ he explained. ‘They touched up the book to say that…We got friendly, but we never had anything intimate.’

Thanks to Emma Downing Warren

‘The Mmm Girl’ Back in Print

I’m delighted to announce that The Mmm Girl, my novel about the life of Marilyn Monroe, is finally back in print. This edition includes a new prologue and ten additional passages: including Marilyn’s diverse encounters with teenage fans and world leaders; intimate photo shoots, a rare stage appearance, and a trip to Mexico; and a closer look behind the scenes of her many movies, from early bit parts to timeless classics.

The Mmm Girl is now available from Amazon worldwide, in paperback (UK, £8.24; US, $12.50); and via Kindle (UK, £3.29; US, $4.93.) While I can’t provide signed copies, I’ll be happy to send a signed bookplate, free of charge, to anyone who wants it. You can contact me here.

You can preview the first four chapters on Amazon, or read further extracts and reviews, and view the book trailer, right here. And of course, after you’ve read the book (and hopefully enjoyed it), please consider writing a short customer review on Amazon or Goodreads.

Marilyn Linked to White Barn Theatre

According to New Canaan News, the site of the former White Barn Theatre in Norwalk, Connecticut is being eyed by a housing development firm. The Save Cranbury Association opposes the plans to build on the two-acre site. ‘This is one of the last pieces of open space,’ said local resident Tim Hawks, whose house abuts the land. ‘I’m all about protecting it.’

As the above photo reveals, Marilyn visited the theatre (circa 1955) and signed its guestbook. Another rare photo, seemingly from the same visit, shows her with poet Norman Rosten, a close friend.

The White Barn Theatre was founded by actress, producer and impresario Lucille Lortel on the property of her estate. Numerous plays from major dramatists premiered there, including Rosten’s 1966 work, Come Slowly Eden. Eileen Heckart, Marilyn’s co-star in Bus Stop, performed there in Unfinished Business (1989.)

Unsung Classics: ‘Bus Stop’

In an article for Bustle, Lara Rutherford-Morrison lists ’10 Classic Movies You’ve Never Seen, Starring Actors You Already Love, That You’re About To Be Obsessed With.’ While Bus Stop, and the other selections on this list are hardly obscure, for those less familiar with classic movies, it’s a worthy discovery.

“Bus Stop is not your typical Marilyn Monroe fare. With this comedic drama, co-starring Don Murray, Monroe set out to prove that she was more than the breathy bombshells she plays in movies like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Seven-Year Itch. Monroe plays what is essentially a parody of her own polished sex-kitten persona in the form of Chérie, a hapless and talentless showgirl who dreams of making it big. Studio execs were nervous about having one of their biggest starts playing against type, but Monroe’s gamble paid off: When the film came out, The New York Times wrote that with Bus Stop, ‘Marilyn Monroe has finally proved herself an actress.'”

Should Advertisers Let Marilyn Rest in Peace?

Following Sarah Churchwell’s Guardian piece about the appropriation of Marilyn’s image in a new Max Factor campaign, Karen Yossman adds further criticism in the New Statesman.

“If still alive today Monroe, Hepburn and Kelly would all have been in their 80s. Dietrich would have been 113. But the images seared into public consciousness – and proliferated by advertisers – are of these women at their aesthetic peak. The same, youthful photographs are continuously recycled on social media (sometimes emblazoned with a wrongly-attributed inspirational quotation), in print and online, effectively reducing Marilyn et al to the status of cartoon characters.

Dead women are ideal brand ambassadors: compliant, submissive and easily manipulated, both figuratively and digitally. Thus it is unsurprising that Max Factor’s slogan for their new campaign (‘From Norma Jean to Marilyn Monroe – created by Max Factor’) not only takes full credit for Monroe’s make-over but eliminates any agency Marilyn might have had in her own transformation. Luckily, she isn’t alive to argue otherwise.”